Not all Speedmasters come from Switzerland

In one of my impulsive buying-at-auction moments, I picked up this little watch for what I thought was an OK price (not a bargain, but not bad – all of about £240 incl commission). It wasn’t running properly, so after a while I sent it off for a service and also replaced the crystal; so all in, it owes me about £400 – maybe a 10th what a nice, mid-70s Omega Speedmaster would cost.

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This 7a28-7040 watch is sometimes described (normally by eBayers) as a “Seiko Speedmaster”…

A brief history lesson

The 7a28 movement within was the world’s first analogue quartz chronograph, released in 1980; this particular watch hails from December 1982. Production of the 7a28 watch family carried on until 1991 or 1992, with perhaps the pinnacle being the RAF Gen 1 chronographs from 1989 on: they periodically pop up for sale online, at the going rate of about £1,000, which is small change in Omega Speedmasterland but big money for a quartz Seiko …

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The 7a28 / 7a38 movements were proper things, too – no plastic parts, 15 jewels, you could regulate their timekeeping and the whole thing can be disassembled, cleaned and re-lubricated.

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The Japanese Seiko catalogue from 1983V2 p38 – shows a selection of bizarre looking things designed by Giugiaro (and featured on the wrist of Sigourney Weaver’s character in 1986’s Aliens – in fact, the SAY068 shown below is known as the “Ripley”, and a modern recreation was released in 2015)…

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Seiko sold these watches as “Speedmasters” (that’s the translation of the text headline to the left of the SAY058). Not sure if Omega even noticed at the time, or maybe they didn’t care.

Some JDM examples even had the name on the clasp – it was aimed at young motorbike riders, apparently…

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… while non-JDM ones typically have additional text like SPORTS 100, MIN and 1/10s markings on the dial, and simply Seiko SQ on the bracelet clasp. Many earlier JDM mechanical Seikos were co-branded as Speed-Timer, usually on the dial, though none of the 7a28s seem to have it written up front.​

Another 7a28 watch was also worn by Roger Moore in A View to a Kill, and for the fans of the truly obscure, was featured in They Might Be Giants’ video for “Older” (this bit).

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Back to the present

I managed to acquire another one, this time from November ‘83. It was another impulse buy at auction, thinking that I might combine the best bits of that one with the bits of the one above, as the bezel on the top one is a little beaten up but it has been serviced, and the hands on the new one might be nicer than the first…

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Sure enough, this new one is a little nicer in places but in the end I decided to leave it in one piece. It’s still got the original crystal, which is a bit scuffed but doesn’t harm the watch too much.

Case size is 40mm excl pushers & crown, so it’s notably larger than many of its 7a28 and 7a38 cousins (the 7a38 being a later model that added day & date readout to the 3 o’clock subdial).

Here it is in comparison (L-R) with an Omega Speedmaster 145.022-71, the 7a28-7040, a white-faced 7a38-7190 from 1986 and an issued 7a28-7120 aka RAF Gen 1, from Gulf-war-era Jan 1990.20180905_08563320180905_085612

If you’re interested in reading more about the 7a28 family, check out the really excellent Collectors Guide on The Springbar.

“Ed White” Speedmaster

Edward Higgins White II (Ed to his pals) was an Astronaut in the early days of the American space program. As part of his flight on Gemini IV, the precursor to the Apollo program that put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon in 1969, he was the first American to do a space walk – or in NASA terms, complete an EVA – Extra-Vehicular Activity.

Public Service Broadcasting do a song about that, though it was something done first by the Russians…

Sadly, Ed White was killed in the Apollo 1 disaster, a tragic fire in the cockpit during testing for the journey to the moon. PSB cover that too, quite sensitively.

Famously, NASA conducted a trial when they were planning the Apollo program, to test a selection of watches for use in space – and the Omega Speedmaster was the only one to pass all the tests, and thus was chosen as standard issue for all astronauts. It’s still the only watch that NASA has certified for EVA use – ie to be worn on the outside of the space suit when doing a space walk.

But during Gemini, NASA issued a selection of watches and they gave Ed White a Speedmaster 105.003 to wear during his EVA and thus it was the first watch worn outside, in space.

As a result of the association, the genre that is 105.003 (produced from 1963-65) is now known as the “Ed White” Speedmaster. It’s characterised from the watch worn by Aldrin on the moon (Armstrong left his in the LEM as a backup so Buzz was the first man on the moon with a watch on his wrist), by a few modifications that Omega made to the 105.003 design, ahead of it – in 105.012 guise – being chosen as standard issue.

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The 105.012 and 145.012 watches that Apollo astronauts wore were essentially evolutions of the Ed White – they had …

    • a “twisted lug” (or “lyre lug”) case design, vs the “straight lug” of the previous generations
    • had crown protectors between the pusher buttons and crown
    • had the word “PROFESSIONAL” on the dial, supposedly put there once Omega realised that NASA was using their watches for pretty serious, professional endeavours

But otherwise, they were pretty much the same thing.

This “Ed White” is of the 105.03-64 vintage – though an Extract of the Archives from Omega confirms it was from December 1965, thereby confirming a theory when discussing Dave’s 40th Anniversary watch, that the year stamped on the caseback and the actual date of manufacture might be some time apart.

Generations

The “Moonwatch” has visibly evolved relatively little since; the watch you could buy over the counter today is entirely different, but similar in style. Omega has done a good job of making people feel that if the watch is good enough for NASA, then it’s good enough for them. An enterprising employee of BlueOrigin did send his Speedmaster into space recently, so it still counts.

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The Ed White is pictured on the left, next to a 145.012–68 and 145.022–71 watch above; comparing the –64 and –71, the one on the far right has a different movement, case, bracelet, bezel, dial and chrono hand – yet most people would say they look the same.

This particular Ed White has a clean-looking Omega 321 movement, “dot over nintey” bezel that’s in decent but not perfect shape, but the dial is top drawer. In many respects, that’s the most valuable part of any watch – and this one is very good. Almost too good to wear, given its value…

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The Ed White has had a few things done to it – the bracelet was refurbished by Michael Young in Hong Kong, to tighten it up, and the watch has been serviced and the lume plot at 10 lightly touched up and stabilised by Omega guru Simon Freese.

Dave’s 40th birthday present

A while ago, Dave contacted me asking for help in finding a suitable watch for his 40th birthday that was then approaching, in 2018. His wife had been saving up a not-insubstantial amount of money and he was looking for some help in finding something that fitted the bill, and which he liked.

So we talked for a while and I showed him real examples of a bunch of watches as well as photos online, and in the end, he decided he’d like a Speedmaster, ideally from 1978. As detailed on Speedmaster101, there was a specific issue of watch that came out in 1978, a 145.022-78.

After a bit of searching, I contacted a friend who is known to be a very prolific collector of Speedmasters, and he happened to have one that he was prepared to sell – “head only”, so no bracelet – having recently been serviced, for a very reasonable sum. So the deal was done.

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Next, I set about finding a suitable bracelet – the era of 1978 would have had a reference 1171 bracelet with 633 end-links; there are several versions available (of both bracelet and end-links), including a new 1171/1.

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The 1171 bracelet was first fitted to the Speedmaster reference 145.022-69, and the logo on the clasp was trapezoid in shape and the Omega symbol was in bas relief

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(Note also, the “Pre-moon” Speedmaster had an engraved case back with no mention of NASA…)

By 1976 or so, the clasp design changed from a trapezoid to a square, so it was good to find a bracelet in good condition that had the “correct” features – most people would never know, but watch nerds care about stuff like this.

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So I managed to get the bracelet, added in a new Omega red service pouch to give Dave’s wife something to present to him, and he’s delighted. The only other point was whether to request an Extract of the Archives from Omega – this would be a £100 cost to get a single sheet of paper in a fancy envelope, saying what date the watch was completed and where it was sent to.

Given that the -78 model was in production from 1978 until maybe 1981, we figured it was safer to not bother with the extract – imagine if the supposed “birth year” watch was actually from 1979…? – and so as far as Dave is concerned, his watch is from 1978, a fact backed up by the fact it’s stamped on the inside of the case.

Everybody’s happy!

Omega Speedmaster – 1968

Fortune favours the brave, at least that’s what fortunate brave people will tell you. A fool and his money are soon parted, too.

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And so, this watch revealed itself to me – listed in a bricks & mortar auctioneer too far away to easily go and take a look at it, I put in a bid at a price I felt was a bit of a gamble, but fair. How so?

The auctioneer couldn’t get the back off the watch (even some tooled-up enthusiasts had tried) so could not comment on the state of its movement, or disclose its serial number, or even say what it was.

As any student of MWO or SM101 would know, there are numerous sub-versions of Omega’s iconic “Moon Watch”, the Speedmaster. From 1957 to 1968, they used a manually-wound “column wheel” chronograph movement named as “caliber 321”, and it was a watch featuring this movement that NASA put through a series of gruelling tests before certifying it as suitable for use in space.

The last version of the Speedmaster to use a 321 movement was numbered 145.012-68 (and that number is etched inside the case back), and each movement has a serial number engraved on it. During 1968, Omega switched to a new movement – an evolution of the 321, but now known as the 861, which is still the basis for Speedmaster Professional watches you could buy new today. With it, they also updated the model number to 145.022-68, but everything else looks the same.

So with my watch, I could tell by the case (twisted lugs, dot over 90 bezel) dial (long indices, applied metal logo) and hands (flat bottomed chrono) that it was either a late 145.012 or a 145.022, known as a “transitional”. I paid for the watch, and got it shipped straight to Simon Freese, a watchmaker with lots of experience in Speedmasters.

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Result. It’s a 321. And the watch was is great shape, as it had been offered at auction looking a bit grubby – a tell-tale that it’s not been tarted up by some dealer trying to maximise his margin.

The thing is, even after it was ultrasonically cleaned, the bracelet looked great on the surface but was chock full of 50 years of dirt…

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Nothing for it but a painstaking disassembly

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… before thorough clean and put it back together.

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Omega Speedmaster – 1974

Another Moon Watch this time from 1974; it’s slightly different to the 1971 Speedmaster previously shown, most noticeably that the dial doesn’t have a step, and that the 1974 dials don’t seem to age in quite the same way – though the hands are a nice yellowy-brown shade, the lume material on the dial is still quite greeny. More details on the differences.

Omega Speedmaster Professional 145.022-74 -- Vintage Watch Advisors

It’s by no means a perfect watch, but given its 43 years, I’d forgive a few scars here and there.

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And here’s the money shot – the movement that makes the whole thing tick

Omega Speedmaster Professional 145.022-74 -- Vintage Watch Advisors

Now sold to the same collector who bought the Mark II. This “selling watches” game is getting almost – almost – as compelling as the “buying watches” one.

Omega Speedmaster – 1971

WP_20150530_15_20_49_ProThe Omega Speedmaster is a legendary watch – it was worn by astronauts in the Gemini & Apollo missions, and although it wasn’t the only one worn in space, it was the only watch ever certified by NASA for Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) – ie spacewalks.

The original Speedmaster is colloquially known as the Moon Watch, given that it was the first watch worn on the surface of the moon.

There’s an amazing resource on vintage Speedmasters over at www.speedmaster101.com, and a fabulous reference guide on www.moonwatchonly.com/.

The caliber (movement) of the original NASA watch evolved from what Omega referred to as Cal 321 to Cal 861, in the late 1960s. This particular watch is an 861, produced in November 1971.

The dial is in great shape, and shows a pronounced “step” visible as a raised central section that bisects the hour markers. From 1974 on, the dial was smoother (domed or flat).

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This particular watch was my first vintage watch, and was acquired directly from the guy behind Speedmaster101.

Omega Speedmaster Mark II

This Speedmaster Mark II was a lucky find – it was in a bricks & mortar auction, not especially well described or photographed. I bought it unseen thinking it would be a nice “beater” but when I collected it, I realised just how crisp and nice it was.

It was serviced at Swiss Time Services (aka STS) in March 2014, and I got an Extract of the Archives from Omega – a process that takes about 6 weeks and costs about £100, but it summarises the information that Omega has on the watch based on its movement serial number.

This one was manufactured on 1st October 1974, and was delivered to the UK. It’s still on its original bracelet, and the hands & dial are original too. I don’t know if the case has been refinished – it wasn’t during the service in 2014, and if it has ever been before then it’s been exceptionally well done.

The Speedmaster Mark II has the same (calibre 861) movement in the Speedmaster Moon watch from 1969 onwards, and the hands and dial are the same except the dial is flat (rather than domed) and has Mark II on it.

Ironically, if this watch was in a Moon watch case & dial, it would be worth at least double what it is in the lovely Mark II case…

Omega Speedmaster Mark II - 145.014  -- Vintage Watch Advisors

Omega Speedmaster Mark II - 145.014 -- Vintage Watch AdvisorsOmega Speedmaster Mark II - 145.014 -- Vintage Watch Advisors

 Omega Speedmaster Mark II - 145.014 -- Vintage Watch AdvisorsOmega Speedmaster Mark II - 145.014 -- Vintage Watch Advisors

This watch has now been sold.